Thursday, December 31, 2009
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 3:26 PM
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 5:48 AM
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Well, all the poetry, anyway. He includes a couple of brief reviews of Jailbreaks and Track & Trace:
Edited: Zach Wells, Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets. “What’s left out?” is usually the first question asked of an anthology. It’s a strange reverse take, especially in this case, since the title doesn’t include “The Best” before “99”. Hey, I would have liked something by George Faludy. But the initial question should always be “what’s in?”, and what’s in is very fine, indeed. A various, quality-saturated volume, surprising when considering that 99 poets (actually 100 since one poem is co-written) are included. Absolute favourites are hard to pinpoint, but perhaps my three top picks would be Eric Ormsby’s frightening “Childhood Pieties”, George Johnston’s moving “Cathleen Sweeping”, and the piece to which the volume owes its name, Margaret Avison’s gift-packed “Snow”. Lest these three point me out as a fossil (if praising the work of 50 years ago makes me such), I was both surprised and delighted to discover recent poems (and some poets) unfamiliar to me. Peter Norman’s “Bolshevik Tennis!” was delightful, especially so as a political sonnet immediately brings to mind message-stuffed solemnity. Here, Norman’s stripped-court conceit is fun, and the reader doesn’t have to choose different sides of the missing net to laugh. And there’s also a funny existentialist poem! I haven’t perused a thirty-pound tome of them, lately. David O’Meara’s “Postcard From Camus” lifts the philosophical weight from that polarizing author with the paraphrasable defence, “it was the sun!” Wells’ notes on the poems include intelligent historical context, but are also highly personal, and in that spirit, I’d challenge his take on Adam Sol’s “Sonnet With The Morning Paper” in which he claims a “suckerpunch” at the turn, “[b]y toying with the reader’s expectations”. The hints are more than subtle, though, in the development: “stealing morning” (the first word bringing out the homophone in the second); “enmeshed in … wire”; “raucous tribe”; “conspire”; “spooking”; “mesh fences”. As for “enmeshed”, a few duds were nestled in amongst the firecrackers -- David McFadden’s “Country Hotel In The Niagara Peninsula” and Mike Barnes’ “First Stab” -- but in a book covering one hundred years of sonnets, limited to Canada, from traditional subjects and form to any subject in forms at first hard to identify with the grand(ma)pappy (isn’t being politically correct cute?) of them all, Wells has worked hard to provide a living repository that colourfully fills a neglected alcove in our national literature.
Zach Wells, Track & Trace. If there are more than a handful of Canadian poets currently writing better music in which the poems are meant to be heard as cadence, dynamic shift, and sonorous repetition and variation, I haven’t chanced upon them yet. I could fill a lot of space here with examples, but that would be longer than a trailer, and would defeat the surprise, the discovery in the context of an entire poem. But here’s a few: “Tender tight fists of fiddleheads/fronding into bitter-leafed ferns.” (from the opener, “What He Found Growing In The Woods”, a fine metaphorical study of birth and death); “chunks of trunk thunking like dud munitions” (from “Nimble & Poise”); “[t]he sudden stink of mussel mud drifting” (from “Mussel Mud”). In fact, mud stink is a sensory motif wafting through T&T, decomposition as difficult beauty, the rot in life not only natural and inevitable, but strangely transcendent, at times. I’m not partial to Wells’ anaphoral poems; the procedure distracts from the back end listing, and the insistence dulls rather than amplifies. And there’s still a straightjacketed concision, at times, which strangles feeling. That those feelings are strong and honest makes this a greater frustration. I was delighted by the often subtle meaning, only apparent in elementary form after several readings, and that the meaning cohered in a curious winterized vision, creatively enacted in Seth’s specific sequence of drawings.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 10:52 AM
Monday, December 28, 2009
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 9:14 AM
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 4:36 PM
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
I first saw this post of Gary's as a note on Facebook, to which I responded:
1 3/4 thumbs up to this, Gary. As you know from past chats we've had, I'm all for the spectrum.
Re footnote 2: I would say that an appreciation of a 16th C poem _independent_ of its historical or social context is 100% possible, if not to all encounterers of same, then at least to someone who's read a lot of poetry and has a broad and deep knowledge of the language. Most, if not all, of the words are, after all, parsable--even if orthographically odd-looking--and the person who wrote it, for all his or her paradigmatic and circumstantial differences, is still equipped with, for all intents and purposes, fake hips and codpieces notwithstanding, the same bits as the 21st C reader, including, most importantly, a brain that has physically evolved very little in the intervening eye-blink. Knowledge of context naturally _enriches_ one's understanding and hence appreciation of the old poem, which is why I personally like to read unobtrusively annotated versions of such texts. But I'd emphasize "unobtrusively" here because I prefer to encounter a poem first as something spoken from one person to another, rather than as a curated artefact. Such encounters often provoke my curiosity about the ground in which the poem grew, in the way that tasting a really good wine makes me wonder about the soil conditions and climatological circumstances of the place and time of its vintage. But an oenophile don't need to know these things to savour the vino (a real clever one could reverse engineer them, but that's another matter). Which is one reason I have a hard time buying the oft-heard argument that certain types of art are under-appreciated because we lack the critical vocabulary to discuss them properly. Critical vocabularies, it seems to be, get built of bricks made of man-that-was-awesome and how-the-fuck-did-they-do-t
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 6:52 PM
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 4:53 PM
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 12:24 PM
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 6:56 AM
Friday, December 11, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 9:21 AM
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
When I asked why they thought, in a country as ethnically diverse as Canada, that the most prominent writers they could call to mind were white men, neither Bök nor Starnino answered completely. With the exception of Starnino’s brief mention of the difficulties aboriginal writers perceive in publishing their work, both avoided the question of ethnicity, focusing on the role of women in their respective genres. Starnino asserted that as an editor he always invites women to submit either critical or creative work, and claims that these women often fail to answer his invitations. Bök claimed that the conceptual writing movement to which he belongs was started by accident with his friends in a bar, and it just happens that no women were there. Bök concluded by saying that the avant-garde would welcome a stronger female presence (I should mention here that I studied with Dr. X for three years at the Uof C, and he was, indeed, supportive of my experimental feminist poetic practice).
Despite their claims that they would welcome more diverse voices, both Bök’s and Starnino’s arguments throughout the debate reveal a problem with their approach to solving the issues they perceive in Canadian poetry. Faced with diminished readership, insufficient critical attention, and a growing cultural irrelevance, both writers argue that more needs to be done in Canadian poetry to reduce, restrict, and reject. But perhaps the decline of Canadian poetry needs to be answered not by putting more bars on the windows, but by throwing open the doors. Bök wants poetry to be culturally relevant. Starnino wants poetry to speak to people. But how can poetry do either of these things when most Canadians are poorly represented in the Canadian literary scene? Instead of trying to further limit poetry to make it relevant, to make it speak to people, what can we do to break poetry wide open, and let everyone in?
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 11:38 AM